Double Take

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you – George Harrison

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Talking About Our Brains by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley, Photograph by Rowena J Ronson

Talking About Our Brains

by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

Open Book by Rowena J Ronson

Photograph, Open Book by Rowena J Ronson

RJR: What does it mean to be strong emotionally? What does that actually feel like? I have been wondering about this more and more recently and I am exploring the idea that it comes about as a result of how we choose to actively wire our brain. On a spiritual level, if we consider that all our experiences are a gift in learning, then if we process them through that lens, our brain can hardwire those thoughts into our foundations. So when the going gets tough, as it often does in life, if our brain has stable, strong wiring, we can feel that in place to support us, like a chemical safety net. We actually are what we create in our brains from our choices of how we view our lives. And so I choose to learn and to take care of my brain so it takes care of me. And as a result I do feel the benefits of those strong foundations. I wonder what you think about all of this Nigel.

NS: If I cut a slice out of my finger, the body will repair even quite a deep wound. I don’t have to do anything for this to happen, except to let it happen, it seems. If the brain is also simply part of our physical body, is it not likely that its inherent tendency is to be strong in adversity and heal itself of any mental wounds? I wonder if it is not a case of us actively choosing to wire our brains in a certain way – is such a thing possible? – but rather, NOT choosing to interfere with the brain’s instinctive intelligence. The problem, of course, is that we use the brain to think – and our negative, confused and neurotic thoughts must make it very difficult for the brain to operate in the same way as a ‘simpler’ part of the body healing and regenerating itself.

RJR: You actually do plenty for the healing of your finger to occur and a great deal of that healing is directed by the brain and the nervous system. I think what you are saying is that it is an unconscious process. The brain is not simply part of the physical body at all. Just as much as the physical body is not purely physical. But I digress. I don’t think we have an inherent tendency to be strong. We are how we are as a result of every single interaction we have while being nurtured by our parents throughout our young years. And of course what occurs in utero, in our genes and our karma play their part too. We are programmed to remember experiences when we are more fearful as a protection mechanism, so children who experience a great deal of trauma, for example, will create brains that a wired differently than those who feel safe and calm. So we can actually possess a traumatised brain from very young, and may not even know it. As for healing from mental wounds, our brain is being bombarded by neurotoxins all of the time. But we might have more control than we think….

NS: Phew… there’s a lot there… Yes that healing of the finger is definitely an unconscious process – “I” just let it happen. This automatic operation of the brain and the body is nothing short of miraculous. But how can you say that the brain is not simply part of the physical body – surely it is, isn’t it? But is the mind something different? And what do you mean by saying the physical body is not purely physical? If you could expand on this? Before I respond on the other things you have just said…

RJR: The brain is not simply part of the body, for many reasons including that the fact that it is evolving all of the time. It is very unique in that way. And we can influence its health uniquely too. Of course there are ways we can look after each of our bodily organs, and by doing so we can certainly change them. But how we look after and influence our brain is completely different. If we think different thoughts, our receptors alter and new pathways are created for use at other times. If we study, our brain responds by learning. Parts of our brain change in size depending on how we use them. And our physical body is also our energetic body but you know all of this Nigel, being a homeopath…..

NS: Well, a former homeopath! I take all those points about why the brain is different. But I would still wonder if the conditioning of the brain from outside sources – and also from within, ie through our use of it for thought – gets in the way of the brain’s natural inclinations and tendencies? I don’t know the answer to this. But there seems something logical in the question. We may think we have some control over the brain – but are we actually messing around with it? You also threw in ‘karma’ as if it were just as plainly evident as genetics and what happens in the womb…. Is there any evidence for inherited ‘karma’ being any different to genetic inheritance? And the question of physical body and energetic body… I don’t know for sure about this. All that seems to be clear is that everything physical is energy or the product of energy. Why differentiate between physical body and energetic body? I don’t want to get away from the discussion about the brain. Are you saying that if we can ‘toughen up’ the brain, then we can be emotionally stronger?

RJR: Once a homeopath, always a homeopath Nigel 🙂  From what I understand, the brain does not have natural inclinations and tendencies. Look to the field of epigenetics and you will see that our DNA is malleable and therefore affected by our environment, which is actually a really good thing and integral to our evolution. So if we take care of ourselves as much as we can in this lifetime, this can and will affect our DNA and consequently how we think and feel and how healthy we are. If we programme our brains to think in a more positive way, we create those connections through our receptors on our nerve cells, which in turn influence our brain chemistry, which makes us feel good. The more we programme our brain to positive thoughts, the easier it becomes because our brain remembers and makes those connections unconsciously. There is a great deal written on this subject now.

NS: From what I understand, the brain DOES have natural inclinations and tendencies. Take a look at sex and violence for starters. Of course, the brain is affected by its environment – which can be for good or ill. The problem that we come back to is: who is this ‘we’ that is taking care of the brain and who is this ‘we’ that is ‘programming’ the brain? Is the ‘we’ separate from the brain? There is a great deal written on this subject, perhaps, but that is also written by the ‘we’, isn’t it? Is it possible to disentangle the ‘we’ and the brain? Talk of programming the brain makes me feel slightly queazy and uneasy. Could it not be that the less we think – and the less we think that we can programme the brain – that the more likely the brain is to operate in its natural state and to find some natural equilibrium – and ultimately to evolve from its primitive state (eg the sex and violence stuff that I mentioned earlier). The brain has not evolved in any way for millennia – and I wonder if it may never do, if humans insist on thinking – and thinking that they can control the brain.

RJR: Not only has our brain continued to develop through the millennia, it develops throughout our lifetime. I am wondering what has made you think that it has stopped developing? And reproduction and survival are not the same as sex and violence Nigel, as you well know. Thinking in terms of ‘we’ and ‘I’ could be considered to be empowering. It is not like we are saying ‘they’. Surely it is a good thing to think that we can influence the health of our brain and therefore our mental and emotional wellbeing? Would you rather feel someone else has the answers, ‘they’ for example, have the answers for you?

NS: I think it has not developed for 5,000 years and maybe longer. (We have kicked this beer can around the yard before.) The evidence? How about the Islamic State beheading videos? How about Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria? How about the everyday gang rapes in India? How about the school massacre in Pakistan? How about the arms trade? Humans have made huge technological advances in the past few millennia, but we are as self-centred, short-sighted and appallingly violent as we always were. We have influenced our brains, but through our misuse of them. I feel that if we could ‘step aside’, maybe our brains would function more healthily. I know you mean something positive about ‘we’ and about ’empowering ourselves’ – but I’m not convinced about the pursuit of ‘power’, even over ourselves. Back to the original question of what it means to be strong emotionally… can we only be strong emotionally if we truly embrace the hopelessness of the state of humanity. Like someone facing death with acceptance and courage, can we face life knowing that the odds are almost completely against humans ever really changing?

RJR: Our collective knowledge is increasing and our brains are indeed changing and developing. This does not mean that our brains do not contain the original reptilian part that is responsible for survival and our impulse to fight or take flight. And yes of course we can be self-centered, short-sighted and violent, but that does not mean our brains have not evolved. Can we only be strong emotionally if we truly embrace the hopelessness of the state of humanity? No. I don’t think so. I feel that humans are changing but that we will always have a shadow. We will always be capable of 360 degrees’ worth of emotions and behaviours. But can we influence how we feel and personally evolve? I believe we can. And I would be interested to hear our readers opinions on this subject…..

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Resident Evil

Talking About Evil by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

NS: Is there such a thing as evil, independent of human beings. Is the idea of the devil rooted in some sort of reality? Or is it a way of expressing an aspect of humanity – an internal flaw?

RJR: I am not sure what you mean by ‘independent of human beings’, as I am not a believer in heaven and hell or ‘God’ and his antithesis, the devil. But there is no doubt that evil exists in humanity. It is interesting to question whether it is a flaw or just born out of the survival instinct. What do you think?

Charlotte's Web (RJR)

NS: I am not a believer either. But there does seem to be a widespread belief that evil exists as something separate from us, something that we can succumb to or be taken over by. But perhaps this is an excuse – like the scapegoat that was blamed for evil things and then driven away or killed. The potential for evil may well be within us all, no? It seems more likely that it is a psychological/self-centred flaw. But why do you mention the survival instinct? Is it that we are prepared to push our boundaries to encompass almost any act – if it is linked to self-preservation?

RJR: How easy it is to think of it as separate from us. It is such a great way for no one to take responsibility for anything. In saying that, I do believe in possession, so in some instances I guess evil can be perceived as a separate entity. I believe we are all capable of anything, yes. But I am not sure we are all capable of evil, although I guess we are all susceptible to being possessed. I am sure you will have something to say in answer to that comment! There is a difference between self-preservation and evil, surely? It may be born out of survival, but it is not what motivates it…

NS: If you believe in possession, then it seems like you are having it both ways… Evil is not separate but it can possess us…? Either it is separate or it is not, surely? I agree that we are all probably capable of anything – or certainly we can never know for sure what we may be capable of. Self-preservation at all costs must lead ultimately to violence – and perhaps also to evil? First, I think we need to clear up this “possession” thing. If we are possessed, what is it that possesses us? And if it is separate from us, what is it, what is its nature and where does it come from? Could we go into this a bit more?

RJR: I would say that it can be separate and it can be part of us. I believe that evil spirits can possess us. Or have I been watching too many films? I also believe that one can be possessed by good spirits too. So in answer to your questions, I believe we can be possessed by spirits, be they evil or otherwise. I am guessing you don’t share my belief?

NS: Saying that evil can be separate from us and part of us seems to be contradictory, although I suppose it is not necessarily so. If you feel that we can be possessed by spirits – either evil or good – then what is the nature of these spirits? And again, this seems contradictory because you were saying earlier that we sometimes look to blame an outside agency for the way we are or the way we behave. I think there is something in this feeling of “possession” but perhaps it is possession by thoughts or feelings that we like to think could never be a part of us?

RJR: I agree that most people do not take responsibility for their feelings, thoughts and resulting behaviour. I am not sure we are conditioned to do so. It is only when people are in crisis and they do some personal development work that they learn the skill. I have learned in life, and I work with my patients with the model that we need to take 100 per cent responsibility for our behaviour. We cannot take responsibility for how the person in the dynamic with us reacts, as that would be controlling and would imply that they should be responsible for our behaviour, which in turn is disempowering. Evil is something else, though, isn’t it – or would you put aggression and lying for example, under the evil umbrella?

NS: Yes, it’s far easier to blame someone else or something else for our behaviour. There may be something in the self-preserving, self-justifying nature of the brain that predisposes us to that? Awareness of what we do and what is being done to us presumably holds the key to placing responsibility where it belongs? Aggression or lying (and other types of “bad” behaviour) could be described as evil or not, depending perhaps on the context or the degree or the result. But I wonder if evil is a mystery that we cannot solve. Is it a word we use to describe aberrant human behaviour stemming from the more primitive actions of the brain and from lack of awareness? Or could it be something that “possesses” us from outside. The latter seems unlikely, doesn’t it? But then what lies behind the way the human brain and behaviour have developed? Is it too fanciful to think that forces of “good” and “evil” may have been involved in our emergence as human beings?

RJR: The idea of forces of “good” and “evil” being involved in our emergence as human beings makes no sense to me. Is there a religious explanation that you are referring to, and if so, can you tell me more?

NS: Not exactly a religious reference, although I suppose that is the basis of much religion – the idea of the opposing forces of God and the Devil. And that can be a metaphor for the human condition. I suppose I come back to the question of whether or not there are forces of evil and good at work in the universe? And is life born out of that? Or is the universe ‘detached’ – neither good nor evil. Or is it good/evil? Or are good and evil ‘human’ terms that have no real meaning in the universe?

RJR: There are opposing forces throughout the universe. In fact, everything exists through polarity, light and dark, but that is not the same as good and evil, is it? Or is it one and the same? I agree the concept of good and evil is human terminology. Other animals are not evil. The reptilian and oldest part of our brain provided us with our basic survival animal instincts. It is from the more evolved parts of our brain that evil has manifested. When we observe animals it is all too easy to project human emotions on to them, but a cat is not evil if it scratches you. We all hear of stories of people who seem completely heartless. I watched last night the new film Monument Men. Forces of good and evil are clearly seen throughout.The selfless men who helped rescue our culture heritage from the nazis. The gold collected by the nazis from the teeth of the Jews.

NS: I am left thinking and feeling that ‘good/evil’ is a red herring. The terms good and evil are simply human creations. There is darkness and light in all things – and perhaps if we are aware of the darkness within us, we will move and act more in the light.